Drum roll, please. TFF’s Sportperson of the Year is . . . Ash Barty!
Who else could it be? She is a Wimbledon champion, she carries herself so well, she continues to do the country proud on and off the court. Good Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise, in three weeks she will win the Australian Open too!
Ash Barty: The Fitz Files’ Australian sportsperson of 2021.Credit:John Shakespeare
It is extraordinary success for one who, early in her career, decided to leave the sport entirely, only to find a rather circuitous way back. And therein lies a story . . .
Way back in 2012, see, Casey Dellacqua was just minding her own business on the pro tennis circuit when out of the blue she received a text message from an unfamiliar number.
“Hello Casey, my name is Ash Barty, and I was wondering if you’d like to play doubles with me in the Brisbane International? I’ve got a wildcard entry.”
Ash Barty? The 15-year-old Australian girl who’d recently won the junior Wimbledon title. The one she’d happened to see in the French Open juniors the year before and been so impressed by, for how the kid competed for every point, moved so well around the court, and had such a superb backhand slice.
Sure, why not? No matter that Dellacqua was a seasoned pro who was a decade older than the young prodigy. It might be fun.
And it was! They drew top seeds Natalie Grandin and Vladimira Uhlirova in the first round and beat them before going all the way to the semi-finals! It was the beginning of a very deep friendship built on more than just tennis. The young woman drew on the older one for advice about the circuit, about life, about . . . what both were all about. They became extremely close off the court and, on the court in the year after first playing together, became runners-up in three grand slam doubles finals.
Despite that success, Ash told Casey in 2014 that she was getting tired of being on the road, away from family and friends. She had had enough of the endless grind of tennis and was thinking of playing cricket instead with Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League.
Casey didn’t hesitate.
Not even Fitz could stop our Ash.Credit:Shakespeare
Great, Ash. Go for it. Life must come first and tennis second. No passion, no point.
They stayed in touch all the same, and Casey was not remotely surprised to see how brilliantly Ash did at cricket, too. There was just something about her combination of natural ability, hard work and will to win that meant she would go seriously well at just about any sport she chose.
But now, here was another odd thing. In January 2016, while Casey was recovering from a bad concussion she’d suffered from a fall on court, Ash called. She had a couple of days free between her cricket match in Brisbane and the next one in Adelaide. Could she come and stay with Casey, her partner Amanda, and their three kids, just to catch up? Among other things, Ash was worried about Casey’s concussion and wanted to check in. Of course, Ash.
It was wonderful to see her and, after talking late into the first night and sleeping late, Casey suggested they head off to the courts at Homebush and have a hit, just for old time’s sake.
And so they did.
And here is the punch line, friends.
For it was during that hit that Ashleigh Barty had the sudden revelation – she did love this game after all! She did miss it. And maybe she should give it another go?
Great, Ash, go for it. Casey Dellacqua had an equal revelation. Despite the severe concussion that had kept her off the court for months, she, too, still had more in her and felt she could play again – ideally with Ash.
The younger woman finished the season with the Heat then came back to tennis, pairing with Dellacqua once more and going on to do singularly well on the doubles circuit – the two contested all four grand slams together in 2017, making the final of the French Open – even while Barty continued to relentlessly rise in the singles rankings from her 2016 starting point in the 400s.
Three years later, in 2019, Ash won the singles title at Roland Garros. And finally, the achievement to beat them all: on a Saturday night in mid-July she won the Wimbledon singles title at the age of 25.
At home in Malabar with Amanda, Casey Dellacqua wept.
Coates’ cutting behaviour is exactly according to his cloth
Look, I admit it.
Annastacia Palaszczuk and John Coates were a great double act.Credit:Shakespeare
At first blush, after watching that John Coates/Annastacia Palaszczuk press conference in Tokyo, I really did rush off to Twitter to give my uninformed take, and it has come back to bite me after the real story emerged. Ill-informed, I wrote that the press conference was a clear example of: “Dinosaur Australia talking to Modern Australia. Only He of Dinosaur Australia would have the presumption to tell She of Modern Australia what she will be doing, and having no clue he is entirely out of line.”
But then, John Coates explained it all, and I now get it. The whole thing was a set-up. Of course! Why didn’t we all think of that?
It was all a set-up, from first to last, so that the Queensland Premier could attend the opening ceremony and not cop it in the neck from the press for going, because she understood it would be a much better look for her to be publicly bullied into going than to simply say, “Of course I am bloody well going!”
It took a little divination, but I am reliably informed that she and Coates worked out the final details offstage, just before the presser.
Coates: “And then Annie, I’ll publicly belittle you, and order you to go the opening ceremony, for all the world like I’m your male boss, and instead of being the thrice-elected Premier of Queensland – each time with an increased majority – you play the role of my servile female whose main job in life is to fetch my coffee.”
Premier Palaszczuk: “Great! And then I will freeze with horror at your mansplaining, and stare at the desk – trying not to reach out and throttle you which would make the whole disgrace even worse – all while the cameras roll, that’s the plan?”
Coates: “Yes! And I can create shocking headlines, right at the moment of greatest triumph, and that will take the whole news about Brisbane actually winning the Games off the front page, and I can – in a manner that would make Arthur Tunstall himself blush with shame – and single-handedly create no less than an international storm! Got it?”
Premier Palaszczuk: “Got it. Lay it on with a trowel!”
Greg Norman did his own research on Saudi Arabia. Credit: Shakespeare
Norman swings in line with Saudi regime
You bozos just don’t get it, do you??
You, with all your petty criticisms of Greg Norman, just because he’s signed up to be the front man for a new golf push by that so-called appalling abuser of Saudi Arabia. When I wrote about this in November, I clearly set out Norman’s answer to those critics like Amnesty International and – well, all human rights organisations actually – who point out that Saudi Arabia is actually a murderous regime that engages in torture on a mass scale.
But did you bozos get it? You did not! Could Greg have made it any clearer for you?
“I made the journey there to look at what was happening in Saudi Arabia before I made any decision on anything because I’m not a person who makes judgment calls. I make sound decisions on sound facts and information that is presented to you.”
Of course Greg had heard about the torture and murder of dissidents, the appalling treatment of women, the brutal stabbing and carving up by government agents of a journalist who didn’t want to get with the program.
But Greg went there, see? Many times! And he asked questions. And he kept his eyes open. And he examined, as he clearly stated, “the information that is presented”.
And in that information the Saudis presented to him, did he see any evidence of tortures and murders? He did not! Not a single torture chamber! Not a single bloody cleaver recently used to carve up the critical journalist.
“I’ve been so impressed,” Greg told Golf Digest. “You walk into a restaurant and there are women. They’re not wearing burqas – out playing golf.”
I mean, come on!
Women in restaurants, can you believe it?
Sure, the New York Times has done many feature pieces on the appalling treatment of women in Saudi Arabia – with no rights bar those granted by their male guardians, who frequently beat them with impunity – but Greg didn’t see any of that. He saw them in restaurants, and on the golf course!
Look, it’s unlikely he saw many female activists in those restaurants, or on those golf courses because, well, a lot of them have been thrown into prison, on the principle that’s where uppity females belong. But you can’t have everything, hear?
Let’s instead get behind Greg and talk about Saudi Arabia backing the game of golf!
I repeat: shoot me.
What they said
Well, well, well . . . Cameron Munster dug himself into another hole.Credit:Shakespeare
Joh Griggs in commentary for Channel 7 rises to the occasion after Kaylee McKeown let herself go after winning Olympic gold in the 100m backstroke by saying “F— yeah!” on live television: “It’s the first time we’ve seen a Seebohm and an ‘F-bomb’ in the same race.” Joh, thus, is the author of TFF’s coveted Quote of the Year.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on the Gabba being the centerpiece of the Olympic bid, comes up with TFF’s Mixed Metaphor of The Year: “We do need this, and it’s going to be utilised for the future, so they don’t want white elephants, they want workhorses, and the Gabba is definitely a workhorse.” I think this is that rarest of beasts: the mixed metaphor that works and is a bit brilliant.
Cameron Munster apologises to former Storm players for the white powder affair: “I know you guys have done so much for this club. Youse have dug the well and, unfortunately, we’ve shat in the well.” Only in league.
Peter Sterling in his final broadcast before retiring from Channel Nine after 30 years decided to add to the list of people he wanted to thank: “I was going to say hair and make-up . . . but really just make-up.”
TFF’s erstwhile colleague Paul Kent after Penrith lost to Souths in the opening match of the finals: “They’re done.” The Penrith players were quick to remind him of it on social media after their victory. Sigh, Paul. Wrong. Again!
Greg Norman scaling down: “As you progressively get gracefully older you find an interesting balance in yourself. The materialistic things you liked 25 years ago, you go ‘why did I even have those then? It was ego . . .” Greg? There are many things will say about you, but “getting gracefully older” is not one of them!
Deputy Carlos Gonzalez from the LA County Sheriff’s Department on Tiger Woods’ car crash: “It’s very fortunate that Mr Woods was able to come out of this alive.”
Dylan Alcott’s tweet during North Melbourne’s Good Friday demolition: “Legit reckon I could get a kick for North Melbourne at the minute.”
US swimmer Lilly King: “I think the [US] women, if we have the meet we can have, can win every single individual gold. That would be pretty cool, right? But really, just looking at it, I think that is a genuine possibility.” Smash them like guitars?
Cameron Bancroft to The Guardian on whether the Australian bowlers knew he was doctoring the ball with sandpaper in Cape Town: “Yeah, obviously what I did benefits bowlers and the awareness around that, probably, is self-explanatory.” There was hell to pay, giving the whole appalling story a new lease of life.
Cameron Bacncroft opened old wounds.Credit:Shakespeare
Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the French Open via social media: “This isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago. I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris.”
IOC President Thomas Bach gives Australia their third big dance: “The Games of the XXXVth Olympiad are awarded to Brisbane, Australia.” Which was the cue for some rather contrived jumping about from our political and sporting leaders because, of course, they already knew.
Dean Boxall on his wild celebrations channelling the wrestler the Ultimate Warrior, after his charge, Ariarne Titmus, won gold: “I lost it. I think I went outside my body. I just lost it. That’s a moment of being with this girl for five years and having a dream together. The Americans might not like it, I don’t know. But I bleed with my athletes … there’s nothing bigger. Arnie can’t represent Earth against Mars. This is the biggest for us. To see it take fold – I just completely lost it.” He lost it. We loved it.
Alyssa Mills keeping it real after husband Patty was accorded – with Cate Campbell – the honour of carrying the Australian flag for the opening ceremony of the Olympics: “If he can carry the flag, he can carry the garbage out.”
Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin after they finally broke their AFL drought: “After 57 years of pain, it is coming home!”
Team of the Year
Emma McKeon. I am not quite sure where she sits in the Australian sporting pantheon, only that it is right up there. Her four golds – count ’em, four – and three bronze in Tokyo make her just the second woman to win seven medals of any colour in a single Games. Her overall Olympics tally of 11 medals makes her the most successful Australian Olympian ever. No other Australian has more than nine. And she’s still only 27.
Emma Raducanu. First qualifier in the open era to win a slam and the youngest women’s slam champion since Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2004. (And I mean this sincerely, let us all hope she deals with the sudden pressure better than Naomi Osaka did, when she was in a similar position three years ago.)
Lauren Jackson. Became the first Australian player to be inducted into the American Basketball Hall of Fame.
Naomi Osaka. Thursday: announced she wasn’t doing press at the French Open. Monday: pulled out of French Open.
Ash Barty. RAH! Wins her second grand slam event, becoming the first Australian woman to win the Wimbledon title since 1980, a neat 50 years after her mentor Evonne Goolagong first accomplished the same thing. Fabulous.
Jess Fox. The ’Riff’s finest. Gold in the C1 canoe slalom final in Tokyo. Pour l’anecdote, she graduated from Blaxland High School a decade ago with an ATAR of 99.
Ariarne Titmus. The Tasmanian finished the Olympics as the breakout star. Among other achievements, she was just the third Australian woman to win the Olympic 400m freestyle, joining Lorraine Crapp and Shane Gould.
Kaylee McKeown. Joins David Thiele as the only Australians to win individual Olympics gold in backstroke.
RIP Tommy Raudonikis (1950-2021). An Australian original, the nuggety halfback for Newtown, Wests, NSW and Australia.
Together again . . . Norm Provan and Arthur Summons.Credit:John Shakespeare
RIP Bob Fulton (1947-2021). Champion player and coach – an Immortal for his prowess on the field.
RIP John Konrads (1942-2021). A gold medallist at the 1960 Olympics in the 1500m, who set 26 individual freestyle world records between the 200m and 1500m events.
RIP Norm Provan (1931-2021). Played in 10 consecutive premierships with the Dragons between 1956 and 1965. His iconic photo with Arthur Summons is the trophy they play for. A genuine gentleman of rugby league.
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